Women leading roles in new Malaysia

Over the last 11 months, key positions within the govt-related agencies have been filled by women


The government is expected to name Parit Sulong MP Datuk Noraini Ahmad as the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) new chairperson this week, the first time a lady to helm the position.

Her appointment is seen as an acid test on how the Opposition-led PAC will live up to the enormous task.

But her expected appointment has resonated the sweeping changes felt by the country in gender recognition.

Over the last 11 months, key positions within the government-related agencies have been filled by women.

The new Pakatan Harapan government, which unexpectedly swept to power in last year’s general election, has promised that women would make up at least 30% of the country’s policymakers.

Such changes have been slow.

Critics have been loud in criticising the government over its failure to fulfil the promise despite women accounted for about 49% of the total voters in the 14th General Election.

A clear gap is seen at the state level instead of at the federal policymaker or key positions in government-linked bodies.

For the first time, Malaysia appointed a woman to be the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

Other female ministers are Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin; Rural Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun; Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin and Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok Suh Sim.

While an overhaul of a political system is deeply rooted in male domination, changes at the government-linked or -owned agencies have been thick and fast. All the appointments were based on merits, academic excellence and recognisable past achievements.

One of the most notable appointments was Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz who became the first lady to helm Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB) since its inception 41 years ago.

The country’s former central bank head for 16 years was appointed as PNB chairman on July 1 last year. She is now charting the next growth path of the country’s largest fund manager.

PNB had asset under management of about RM295 billion at the end of last year. She is also the chairperson of Sime Darby Property Bhd, Malaysia’s largest property developer based on landbank.

The government had also appointed Datuk Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus, another prominent banker as Bank Negara Malaysia’s governor.

Bank Pembangunan Malaysia Bhd (BPMB), another key financial institution owned by the government, has appointed Datuk Zaiton Mohd Has-san as the new chairman.

“We believe that BPMB will soon get a clean bill of health,” said Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.

“We need a new person-in-charge [for the bank] and when you want to clean up a bank, I think the right person to do the job is sometimes a lady.

“We have every confidence in Datuk Zaiton’s ability to turn around the bank,” Lim said recently.

Zaiton said the cleaning-up process will start “as soon as possible”.

“There are no guarantees, but the guarantee that we will give you is we will try our very best,” she was reported as saying recently.

She is also on Lembaga Tabung Haji’s Board Risk Audit and Governance Committee.

Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) which is a key agency, created to benefit the Bumiputera and has been in the spotlight over questionable decisions has also appointed a female chairman.

Dr Hasnita Hashim is a PhD holder in nuclear physics from Oxford University and a trained actuary. Meanwhile, at the government-linked investment company (GLIC), Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera (LTAT) has appointed Nik Amlizan Mohamed as the CEO. She was previously the CIO of Retirement Fund Inc. LTAT, the smallest of the GLIC, manages an asset under management of around RM10 billion.

But LTAT owns controlling stakes in key listed companies including Boustead Holdings Bhd, Affin Bank Bhd, Boustead Plantations Bhd, Boustead Heavy Industries Corp Bhd and Pharmaniaga Bhd.

In the digital sector, the Malaysia Digital Economy Corp appointed Surina Shukri early this year as the new CEO, while Nurini Kassim was appointed as the CEO of the Malaysian National News Agency, the first lady to head the government-funded news agency since it was established more than five decades ago.

Women are taking key positions in the new Malaysia, all based on merit and ability.